Yoga and Mindfulness for children and Teens.
Meditation has a range of scientifically proven benefits but it is not going to help your teen on it's own and here is why....
In my classes, I will often share with my pre-teens and teens about the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. I have 10 years old's who I am sure could teach a little about it at this point. They love to learn about it because it makes sense to them why we do the things we do and how it helps. Let's look at these in a bit more detail to better understand why meditation alone is not going to help.
The Sympathetic Nervous System
You may have heard of the fight or flight response. This is a response that is triggered by a stressful event (or even the thought of a stressful event). The response is activated by the sympathetic nervous system. It gives us the energy and focus required to escape danger. So while this state is often labeled as 'bad' or that we want to be in our 'rest and digest' state, it has a vital role to play. Just like with our emotions, it all has it's place - it is all valid.
The Parasympathetic Nervous System
This system triggers the 'rest and digest' response
Okay, so what does this have to do with meditation?
The purpose of meditation according to mayoclinic.org is to give you a sense of calm, peace and balance that both benefit your emotional well-being and your overall health. Meditation is a practice that originated in India several thousand years ago. When most people think of Yoga, they just think of the movement (asana) practice but actually there are 8 limbs of yoga.
You can read more about the 8 limbs of Yoga in more detail in this great artical from Chopa. I bring this up because I want to talk about Dhyana. This is one of the limbs of Yoga - it is when we are completely absorbed in the focus of our meditation.
Yoga Asana was a tool to help prepare the body for this state. Getting the wiggles out if you will but that is not the only reason why yoga is such a great practice before meditating.
If we are in our fight or flight response and we sit down to meditate, we may feel irritated, restless and even unsafe. If you feel unsafe, you're not going to easily activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Let's look at this a different way. If an antelope is running from a lion and they escape unharmed, they are not going to sit down and rest straight away. They are going to be cautious, scanning the area, making sure that they are safe. Animals also literally shake the trauma off. This is the same for us, no we aren't getting chased by a lion (probably), but the danger still feels very real - even if that danger is a math test!
If our sympathetic nervous system is activated we need to find a way, like Taylor Swift, to shake it off.
Yoga is my favourite way to prepare for mediation even if it is with a few gentle poses, but on days when I feel especially agitated or anxiety is high, I like to practice Hatha yoga, Vinyasa or just dance it out to my favourite song. The main thing is that I move my body before trying to sit with my breath.
Having the Sympathetic Nervous System constantly activated
If we don't take the time to relax on a regular basis, we can stay in this 'fight or flight' response. This can lead to a range of problems including fatigue, low energy, decreased immunity, depression, anxiety disorders, sleep problems, irritability, difficulty relaxing, social withdrawal, low self-esteem, muscle pain and even chronic headaches.
Do I need to move every time before my meditation practice?
Meditation comes in so many forms, including moving meditations! So it really is about checking in with yourself (same goes for your teens) and noticing how you feel. How are your energy levels? Is your mind racing? Do you want to be still or move? Do you feel safe? Do you feel agitated? Is your brain on high alert?
What kind of mediation are you going to practice? How would it feel to move your body first?
Mediation alone may not be enough to help when anxiety is high but if you or your teen was to include something that helps to prepare the body and mind such as Yoga, Dance or Shaking it off, meditation could be a great help.
Does your teen have a practice that helps them to activate that parasympathetic nervous system and help them to manage anxiety and stress? Is this an area they struggle with?
Is it effecting their sleep or making them irritable during the day? You may like to check out my new course - Evening Rituals.
What is your biggest take-away from this post, I would love to hear if you got anything from it. Comment below or feel free to send me a message.
You may also like to check out these previous posts:
Stream of thoughts - meditation for teens
22 mindful practices for stressed out mums
Thought hunter - teens practice